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Well … What Is “The Caliphate?”

CaliphateThe ultra radical Islamist group, ISIS, has announced the restoration of the Caliphate.

What is a caliphate?

Who chooses the Caliph?

Unfortunately  the prophet did not leave a successor.   His empire, consisting then only of Arabia,  had until then been been governed under the prophet and his interpretation of the law… The Quran.

Of course this led to a struggle when the prophet died.    The result was a succession  of people chosen under the claim that they were close  to Mohammed and therefore  could speak  as the prophet  would .  These successors  were the first Caliphs.

The system worked amazingly well and led to  the  conquest  of   a huge span  of what had been Byzantium,  the Christian world  ruled  from Constantinople .   Within less than half a century, Islamic flags  flew from  Andalusia  to northern India .  All under the guidance ef men who climed ot be the successors to the Muhamud’s authority to understand God’s book.

That claim had a lot of merit.  The barbaric rule  of Rome  under its state religion  Christianity was very unpopular.   Islam and the Quran brought a real claim to justice.

Exposed to the law derived from the Quran,  with greater equality even for nonbelievers,  the people of the invaded lands welcomed  the invading troops.

Today’s devout Muslims look back on the caliphate  not to a bloody conquest but to a system that was not only fair  but given  by God.

SOMEONE   had to speak for Mohammed !

The system broke  when there was a conflict  over who should be the Caliph.   That conflict,   largely  based on whether the Caliph  had to be  a relative of the prophet,  led to a horrific  battle in what is now Iraq and to  the establishment  of the schism between Shia  and Sunni .

The Sunni  won that conflict  with the assassination  of the prophet’s son in law, Ali, and the establishment of a Caliphate based on a new family.

Sunni Caliphs were not necessarily the secular rulers as much as they were the legal and religious authorities .     The Caliph’s interpretation of law was defended by  a secular head, the  Sultan.

Centuries  later,  the Japanese Empire would develop a similar system where the Emperor sat as the choice of God while the Shogun  actually governed.

 So, the question facing any modern Caliphate must be:  Who  will choose the successor to Mohammed ?

That question is not at all clear .   The last Caliphs were Turkish and were chosen by Islamic Imans as much under the influence of the Sultan in Istanbul as the Roman Church was under the influence of the Emperor in Constantinople.

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